Elizabeth Carey Essay, Research Paper
Lady Elizabeth Tanfield Cary,
Due: June 10, 2001
Elizabeth (Tanfield) Cary is an important literary figure worthy of study in the 21st century because she was a rebel with a cause for women s rights, especially within marriage; because she became a rebel with a religious cause; and finally, because she was the first Englishwoman to write and publish a drama, The Tragedy of Mariam (1613).
Elizabeth (Tanfield) Cary was born in 1585, was the only child of Judge Sir Lawrence Tanfield (Weller), and was provided a strict but extensive education (Krontiris). Cary s life was characterized by her constant struggle between the pressures of conformity and submission and an inner imperative to resist and challenge authority. Societal expectations of women at this time were that women were to be nominally educated, if at all. Women were to be quiet and meek, to be subservient to men in all regards, to be used as an asset when arranging marriages. Women were to be a beautiful ornament on the arm of their husband in society, to bear and raise his children, and were expected to have no thoughts or opinions on matters of politics or religion. Women had no power to choose their own futures, and were at the mercy of their parents in regards to education, and the choice of a spouse. Although Cary was raised within this environment, she dared to step outside the bounds of societal and gender expectations and undertook much of her own education, learning 5 languages, translating classical texts and writing verse (Weller).
She married Sir Henry Cary in 1602. Subsequent to her marriage, her husband, a successful courtier was appointed Privy Councillor (1618), Viscount Falkland in the Scottish peerage (1620), and Lord Deputy of Ireland (1622). She bore him eleven children between 1609 and 1624; and continued to expand her education by reading continually in history, poetry, moral philosophy, and the Church Fathers (Beilin).
Her interest in Catholicism began as early as 1605, bringing her into direct conflict with her husband who was serving as Lord Deputy of Ireland at the time and was a staunch Protestant. This conflict reached a head in Ireland where she witnessed his cruel suppression of Catholics, bringing her to make an open conversion to Catholicism in 1625. Her husband dismissed her back to England, had her placed under house arrest, and tried to take custody of the children (Krontiris). Her conversion, in addition to causing her great marital strife, also caused her to be isolated, attacked, cast off by husband and family, and in acute financial distress. Ultimately she brought six of her children to Catholicism, spiriting two sons abroad to receive a Jesuit education, and leading four daughters to join a convent (Beilin).
She is renowned as the first woman to write a tragic drama in English, The Tragedy of Mariam (printed in 1613). The play invites comparison with Webster s Duchess of Malfi, performed in 1613. Both plays have forceful women protagonists who insist on preserving the integrity of their own emotional lives in regard to marriage and who otherwise flout the prevailing gender expectations; both queens are murdered by jealous men who then go mad (Abrams and Greenblatt). Cary s play was a Senecan-style drama intended to be spoken aloud (Weller). The play reflects Cary s own life, in the dissension between a dictator husband and dissident wife, and in the theme of society s destruction of women abdicating the private sphere for a public or published role (Weller). As a play, Mariam explores issues important in Cary s own life and controverted in the Jacobean state: the claims of conscience, the analogy of domestic and state tyranny, the power of kings and husbands, the rights and duties of wives and subjects, the justifications for resistance to tyrants, and the possibility and power of passive resistance (Abrams and Greenblatt). Mariam offers an unusual account of the Herod-Mariam relationship in that it is seen from the woman s perspective. It is the also the only drama about Herod and Mariam from that period that dramatizes the conflict from Mariam s point of view, and focuses on the inner conflict that the main character suffers as a wife, and shows the difficulty experienced in subordinating herself to her husband (Krontiris). Additionally, the play is explicitly concerned with the legitimacy of divorce and allegorically concerned with religious faith and martyrdom. It is also directly related to a major and controversial event of the Reformation the divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine and the consequent split of the Church of England from the Church of Rome (Weller).
She has also been credited with writing The History of the Life, Reign and Death of Edward II (c.1627-8), translating from French The Reply of Cardinal du Perron to James I (1630), as well as religious verses and translated classical texts, although none survive (Krontiris). If she did write The History, she is the first Englishwoman to write a full-scale history (Abrams and Greenblatt).
It is because she exercised the right of self-determination, challenged the status quo by becoming well educated, and chose her own religion, and because she was the first Englishwoman to write and publish a drama, that makes Elizabeth Cary an important literary figure worthy of study in the 21st century.
Abrams, M.H. and Stephen Greenblatt, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th Ed, Vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. 1508-10.
Beilin, Elaine. Redeeming Eve. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987. 153, 157, 164, 166, 169.
Krontiris, Tina. Oppositional Voices. London: Routledge, 1992. 64, 80-84, 91-92.
Weller, Barry and Margaret Ferguson. The Tragedy of Mariam, Fair Queen of Jewry. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994. 3-6, 28, 30.